Pelicans win Zion sweepstakes, will choose first in NBA Draft
No Zion Williamson, or any of the other three top picks for the Charlotte Hornets, either.
The Hornets didn’t beat tough odds — less than a 5 percent chance of jumping into the top 4 — in Tuesday night’s NBA draft lottery. They will select 12th in the first round of the June 20 draft, along with 36th and 52nd overall in the second round.
That means it’s highly unlikely they will have access to star prospects, such as Duke’s Williamson and R.J. Barrett and Murray State point guard Ja Morant.
The New Orleans Pelicans won the draft lottery, as they did in 2012 to draft Anthony Davis after the then-Charlotte Bobcats finished a league-worst 7-59. The Memphis Grizzlies will pick second, the New York Knicks third and the Los Angeles Lakers fourth.
At No. 12, some players who could still be available include Maryland center Bruno Fernando, North Carolina forward Nassir Little and Gonzaga forward-center Brandon Clarke. The Hornets have already started draft workouts, and are expected to total 20 or more before the draft.
The Hornets missed the playoffs for the third consecutive season. They finished 39-43 under first-season coach James Borrego and were eliminated from playoff contention on the regular-season’s final day, during a home loss to the Orlando Magic.
After the season, Borrego and general manager Mitch Kupchak both identified interior defense as an area that must be addressed this offseason. They finished just 23rd among 30 NBA teams in defensive efficiency (allowing 113.16 points per 100 defensive possessions).
The Hornets’ biggest offseason issue is whether All-Star point guard Kemba Walker will choose to re-sign in Charlotte or move on in unrestricted free agency in July. In addition to a big raise over his current $12 million annual salary, Walker has said the prospect of winning in the postseason will factor in his decision. The Hornets have never advanced past the first round of the playoffs in their three appearances in Walker’s eight seasons.
The Hornets likely won’t know Walker’s intentions before draft night, so one factor in their decision could be insurance at point guard against a possible Walker departure. If Walker leaves and the Hornets go into rebuild mode, it also would probably mean veteran backup Tony Parker wouldn’t return. That would leave the Hornets with just one returning point guard, Devonte Graham who went in the second round a year ago.
The Hornets’ player payroll for next season is already loaded with expensive contracts: They have $94 million in guarantees, plus the $3.8 million slotted for the 12th pick under the designated rookie scale.
Kupchak, Borrego and the Hornets scouting staff will be in Chicago all week for the draft combine.